Not every game in the world needs to be about saving the world from an imminent threat, or rescuing someone from danger that lurks around every corner. In fact, all the saving you can do in most situations is to lend someone a willing ear and offer a nice cup of coffee in a trying time. Coffee Talk follows this more intimate idea of doing good, and in doing so, creating one of the most compelling visual novels out there.
You play as the barista of the titular Coffee Talk shop, a safe haven for the citizens of Seattle in a world where fantasy and reality have always co-existed. Instead of just serving coffee to humans, you’ll play host to a wide variety of characters, such as game developer orc, a freelance elf artist, a werewolf who works in hospital admin and a few others. Each one has their own struggles and issues, whether they’re personal, professional or concern the world at large.
Through this one coffee shop, and the conversations and interactions you have with the patrons, you learn more about the evolving relationships they share with each other, along with the news about the world at large. There’s no overt choices to make, you’re just here to listen to these characters sound out their problems, which often leads to other characters in attendance chiming in with their own advice and ideas, creating some of the game’s best conversations.
There’s that old saying of “it takes a village”, and while that’s a statement usually applied to raising a child, it can also be related to many of life’s problems. When it comes to issues of family acceptance in a relationship, dealing with pressure at work or a teenager striking out on their own, some outside perspective is always a good thing, and being at the center of Coffee Talk’s melting pot of species is utterly engaging from start to finish.
Still, it’s more than just conversations though, as the game often asks you to prove how attentive you’ve been by tasking you with making drinks according to the orders of your patrons. There might only be a handful of ingredients to choose from, but there’s dozens of potential drinks, so it’s not as easy as it sounds. Who knew being a barista could be so stressful? You know, aside from anyone who’s ever worked in the service industry, probably.
It’s an interesting dynamic, and one that allows for player choice and interaction while still asking for something new from the player. Instead of making the player pick from some binary choices, leading them down set paths, Coffee Talk instead rewards the player with new cutscenes and story information by being an active listener, tailoring your service to suit the needs of the customer. You’re not meta-gaming your choices in order to arrive at the best ending, you’re just being a safety blanket for people in their time of need, which is just as powerful and rewarding as saving a whole galaxy by blowing half of it up.
Coffee Talk is certainly appealing to a certain group of players, those who prefer their experiences to be cute and cosy rather than bombastic and violent, but that doesn’t mean you should skip over this essential experience. With its short running time, funny yet poignant writing and genuinely likeable cast of characters, Coffee Talk is well worth checking out. That said, if anyone can figure out the latte art mini-game, let me know before Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly drops.
Trying to draw a willy on someone’s drink is harder than you’d think.
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